Health officials aren’t making much progress in slowing the spread of sexually transmitted infections around the world. More than 1 million new cases are seen every day at a rate that remains unchanged in the last five years, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO). In the United States, the crisis is costing an estimated $16 billion a year in preventable health-care expenses.
The U.S. is seeing cases of syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea—three of the most common, treatable sexually transmitted diseases—jump about 10 percent in 2017 to a record of almost 2.3 million. The annual rate of reported syphilis cases in the U.S. has almost doubled from 15.9 per 100,000 people in 2012 to 31.4 cases per 100,000 people in 2017.
Early-stage Syphilis Soars Among U.S. Women
Rates of early-stage syphilis among U.S. women soared 156 percent between 2013 and 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the surge corresponds with a rise in sexualized drug use known as “party and play” (PnP), “chemsex” or “slamming.” These practices involve using methamphetamines or injection drugs such as heroin to facilitate unprotected sex with multiple partners. They’ve been shown to encourage risky behavior, especially among men who have sex with men.
Reported U.S. cases of syphilis passed from a mother to her baby reached a 20-year high of 918 in 2017. That number has more than doubled since 2013. Some 70 percent of those cases were seen in the states of Florida, California, Arizona, Texas and Louisiana.
STIs Threaten Newborns
These sexually transmitted infections are particularly serious for women. As many as 40 percent of pregnancies among women who have untreated syphilis result in miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. Surviving babies may suffer from skeletal defects and hearing impairment. These babies may also have meningitis, which can cause developmental delays and seizures. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease that can cause ectopic pregnancy, chronic pain and infertility. Newborns infected with chlamydia in the uterus may get pneumonia.
CDC Urges Tests for Women Under 25
With the American Sexual Health Association warning that half of sexually active people in the U.S. will contract an STI by the age of 25, it’s important to pay attention to your sexual health. Women who are younger than 25 should get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year, according to the CDC. Women should start getting regular pap smears when they reach the age of 21 to screen for HPV, or human papillomavirus, and continue getting pap smears once every three years.
Condoms can help prevent these infections, and limiting sexual partners who also have regular checkups can help reduce your risk of infection. While medicines can cure these infections, people don’t become immune after treatment. Some of the cases may be re-infections among the same people or multiple infections at the same time.
Global health officials say the WHO study is a wake-up call to make sure everyone, everywhere can find the help they need to prevent and treat these diseases. The World Health Organization says the worst rates are found among people who are the least likely to receive testing and treatment. Female sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender women are the most vulnerable, according to WHO officials.
If you think you have been exposed to an STI or and STD, see your general practitioner or another health care provider to be tested.